Carbon Use Efficiency and Its Temperature Sensitivity Covary in Soil Bacteria.


Department of Microbiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA [Email]


The strategy that microbial decomposers take with respect to using substrate for growth versus maintenance is one essential biological determinant of the propensity of carbon to remain in soil. To quantify the environmental sensitivity of this key physiological trade-off, we characterized the carbon use efficiency (CUE) of 23 soil bacterial isolates across seven phyla at three temperatures and with up to four substrates. Temperature altered CUE in both an isolate-specific manner and a substrate-specific manner. We searched for genes correlated with the temperature sensitivity of CUE on glucose and deemed those functional genes which were similarly correlated with CUE on other substrates to be validated as markers of CUE. Ultimately, we did not identify any such robust functional gene markers of CUE or its temperature sensitivity. However, we found a positive correlation between rRNA operon copy number and CUE, opposite what was expected. We also found that inefficient taxa increased their CUE with temperature, while those with high CUE showed a decrease in CUE with temperature. Together, our results indicate that CUE is a flexible parameter within bacterial taxa and that the temperature sensitivity of CUE is better explained by observed physiology than by genomic composition across diverse taxa. We conclude that the bacterial CUE response to temperature and substrate is more variable than previously thought.IMPORTANCE Soil microbes respond to environmental change by altering how they allocate carbon to growth versus respiration-or carbon use efficiency (CUE). Ecosystem and Earth System models, used to project how global soil C stocks will continue to respond to the climate crisis, often assume that microbes respond homogeneously to changes in the environment. In this study, we quantified how CUE varies with changes in temperature and substrate quality in soil bacteria and evaluated why CUE characteristics may differ between bacterial isolates and in response to altered growth conditions. We found that bacterial taxa capable of rapid growth were more efficient than those limited to slow growth and that taxa with high CUE were more likely to become less efficient at higher temperatures than those that were less efficient to begin with. Together, our results support the idea that the CUE temperature response is constrained by both growth rate and CUE and that this partly explains how bacteria acclimate to a warming world.


carbon use efficiency,comparative genomics,growth strategy,physiology,soil bacteria,

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